The Victor Tombstone

Keeper of Archaeology, Alex Croom takes an in-depth look at the Victor tombstone, on display at Arbeia South Shields Roman Fort.

To read Alex’s accompanying piece about the Regina tombstone, click here.

This is the tombstone of Victor the Moor from north Africa, a freed slave. The hugely expensive tombstone was set up by his ex-master, a cavalry soldier called Numerianus. It is made from a finer sandstone than is typical of the locally available stone, and the mason was able to include much fine detail. The stone-mason himself almost certainly came from Palmyra in Syria. While the shape of the tombstone and the form of the inscription is typical of Romano-British examples the details of the sculpture show many Palmyrene influences.

The two busts, with deliberately smashed faces, have a circular frame based on a Greek shield (clipeus). Such ‘shield images’ were originally portraits of ancestors that were hung on the wall. In Palmyra full-sized examples were occasionally used for portraits of the deceased on sarcophagi, but smaller metal versions showing male busts were also sometimes worn as a medallion on the hats of priests. The figures, simply wearing tunic and mantle (as here), hold no attributes to identify them as a particular deity,  but as the medallions were worn by priests they presumably held some religious significance. If the images are of gods they may have a protective role here.

The lion could be used in funerary contexts either as a symbolic guardian of the tomb or as a reminder of the power of death, but here takes the form of a lion’s head holding a loop. This was widely used as a design for a door-knocker or handle. Its unusual use as straightforward decoration is also known on a number of Palmyrene tombstones.

Like many Roman tombstones the face has been deliberately targeted and badly damaged. It would not have been an accurate portrait of Victor himself as the stone-mason is unlikely to have ever seen him in life. A few of his ‘snail-shell’ curls, commonly used on Palmyrene sculpture, survive.

This pose is very typical for Palmyrene tombstones showing men reclining on couches; they hold a drinking cup in one hand and in the other a garland, piece of fruit or, as here, a small branch of olive or laurel leaves. The exact meaning of the branch is unclear, but is thought to be protection against evil and bad luck. Victor is shown wearing typical mainstream Roman dining-clothes, consisting of a comfortable unbelted tunic and a rectangular mantle, although details such as the numerous folds in the cloth, the scalloped edge and carefully depicted tassel of the mantle are very Palmyrene in style.

On Palmyrene tombstones the space behind the reclining figure was usually taken up with smaller figures of the man’s family. Here the stone-mason has filled the space with a stylized plant which, despite having no leaves or fruit, is likely to be a grape vine as similar spiral and curled tendrils are used elsewhere in Roman art on definite vine scrolls. This imagery is very similar to scenes on some of the small fired-clay tokens that were used as entrance tickets to religious feasts in Palmyra. These often show a priest reclining in exactly the same pose as Victor, with a vine above the end of the couch.

Like Victor’s clothing, the pillow and decorated mattress cover are shown with large numbers of folds in the Palmyrene style. The wooden couch has ornamented legs and carved, inlaid or appliqué decoration along the edge. The couch is what is called a ’bed with boards’, having curved wooden walls on three sides to help protect the person on it from damp walls and cold draughts. These boards should be at least shoulder height, but the stone-mason has either not wanted them to get in the way or has tried to make the couch closer in style to those shown on tombstones back in Palmyra, and so has reduced them in size to a slightly S-shaped curved element no taller than the pillow.

Below the couch is a slave, shown at the different scale so that he does not get in the way of the main figure. He is holding up a cup of wine he has just filled from the large bowl beside him. This theme of a slave offering wine first appeared on Greek tombstones and was then adopted by the Romans, creating as it did a pleasing image of status, pleasure and luxury. The bowl was used to mix wine with water (often hot) and perhaps also some herb flavourings, which was carried out in front of the guests at dinner parties.

Victor came from ‘the nation of the Moors’, who lived in what is now Morocco and west Algeria. They were famous for their very fast and light cavalry, and it is possible Victor was bought by the cavalry soldier Numerianus to be a groom. He would have helped Numerianus look after his horse and military equipment, as well as carried out domestic duties in the barracks.

Victor was 20 years old (‘annorum XX’) when he died. Another tombstone from South Shields records a woman who died when she was 30. Ages on many Roman tombstones are often multiples of ten, probably because the exact age of the person (especially ex-slaves) was unknown and an approximate age was given instead.

Images: Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

VE Day 75 – Use of Personal Narratives

Written by Roberta Goldwater, Assistant Curator (Regimental) Charge!

This week I should have been opening our temporary exhibition, ‘The Final Push’, charting the final six weeks of World War II for two of our regiments; the 13th/18th and the 15th/19th Hussars. The opening was to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

When putting together any exhibition I am always very conscious that it needs to follow one of the key aims of Charge!; that whilst we told the story of the regiments as a whole it’s very much the individuals whose voices should be heard. We are fortunate to have, within our archives, many diaries, letters and memoirs, both personal and official, and it’s the personal ones that often make the most interesting reading. By quoting these individuals it often creates a more vivid picture than any I can create with my text.  Here a soldier reflects on the crossing of the Rhine on the 25 – 26 March 1945, a key moment in the final phase of the war for both regiments:

British Army tanks crossing the Rhine, March, 1945 (NEWKH 0384.10)

‘The day we prepared to move up for the crossing, we discovered that many of the Germans were still sure that they would win the war.  A group of prisoners were working on a damaged railway with a German officer in charge…He said that we would be annihilated as soon as we crossed the river and we would be pushed back into the sea.’

(D Wileman 13th/18th Hussars)

The benefit of hindsight tells us the German officer was wrong. Here, another soldier sums up the constant state of uncertainty and alertness the soldiers found themselves in so close to the end of the war in Europe:

‘We moved on each day, was it going to be our last day in battle, but we still had to carry on, we came back to a part of Holland again at Hengelo then back across the border again into Germany to Nordhorn, Lingen, Cloppenburg, Delmenhorst and Bremen, we stayed in houses with the German civilians we slept on the floor of their living rooms with one eye open we were not taking any chances at this stage’.

(G. Treloar, 13th/18th Hussars)

One of our regiments, the 15th/19th Hussars, was to come across unimaginable horror when it stopped at the gates of Belsen concentration camp:

‘When we got there, there were literally hundreds of bodies in all sorts of clobber, some without any and there’s these folk pressed up against the barbed wire…they were skeletons, the skin on them…these folk were starving…their hollow cheeks, hands as thin as can be…’

(I. Forsyth, 15th/19th Hussars)

The British Army arrive at Belsen Concentration Camp (© IWM BU 003928)

Ian Forsyth very kindly agreed to be interviewed earlier this year for our exhibition and the interview is at times horrifying, fascinating and very humbling.

One of the things that struck me when I was researching this exhibition was the contrast between the euphoric newspaper headlines and the memories of those men who served. And so, I shall end this article with the following two quotes:

‘On the evening of the 7th May 1945…Major Courage came round looking pleased, we knew it was good news, tomorrow the 8th May 1945 would see the signing of unconditional surrender by the German senior generals. This was to be known as V.E day there was some cheering at first. We the men who had done our duty throughout did not cheer but we thought about our pals who would never enjoy this moment with us, so many of them.’

Ernie Hamilton (15th/19th Hussars)

‘Having got over the excitement, and suffering from the night before feeling…I suddenly realised how silent everywhere was, all guns now standing idly by, no longer required it all seemed so unreal, when suddenly I was brought back to my senses, the silence was broken by a tiny bird singing, I realised then that I had not heard such a sound since I left England, and that tiny bird in song told me more than words that this terrible war was now truly over.’

John Brookes (13th/18th Hussars)

Tank crew of the 13th/18th Hussars celebrating victory with the local population, 1945 (NEWKH 8150.1)

‘B’ Squadron, 15th/19th Hussars marching to church for victory thanksgiving service, Keppeln, May, 1945 (NEWKH 0386)

LCT 7074 – Hebburn’s Remarkable D-Day Survivor Part 2: D-Day and Beyond

Written by Geoff Woodward, Museum Manager, North & South Tyneside.

Part 1: LCT 7074 – Hebburn’s Remarkable D-Day Survivor is available to read here 

At long last the mechanics seemed to have fixed the problem.  The engines were running properly, and Landing Craft Tank (LCT) 7074 was ready for service.  It hadn’t been an auspicious beginning for the vessel, stuck on the River Tyne for a month following construction, fit-out and handover to the Royal Navy. Hopefully it wasn’t a bad omen and a foretaste of more misfortune to come.  As the LCT headed down the coast away from Tyneside to join the 17th LCT Flotilla assembling off Great Yarmouth no doubt the crew had mixed emotions – glad to be finally under way, yet nervous and tense for what lay ahead.

But once they’d joined the other vessels in the flotilla there was little time to think.  Sub-Lieutenant Philip Stephens, second in command of LCT 7074, noted in his journal that they received two weeks of ‘feverish beaching and invasion training’; a crash course to prepare them as best as possible for the imminent Normandy landings.  This training over, the LCT then sailed on to the River Orwell in Suffolk, where at Felixstowe on 2 June, ten tanks from the British 7th Armoured Division, the famous ‘Desert Rats’ were loaded on board.  The tanks crews, nearly sixty men in total, crammed on board with the twelve crew members. LCT 7074 then made its way to the Solent area close to the Isle of Wight where it joined the full invasion flotilla heading for France.

Over 7000, mostly British, ships and boats of all shapes and sizes took part in Operation Neptune, the naval element of Operation Overlord, including landing craft which played a crucial role, carrying troops, tanks and supplies right onto the beaches. There were more than 800 Landing Craft (Tank) (LCT) vessels, like LCT 7074. The seas were rough with a heavy swell and many men were badly seasick on the journey.

On board LCT 7074 the tank crews tried to sleep squeezed into any spaces they could find beside their vehicles on the deck. They were scheduled to land in support of the 50th (Northumbria) Division on the Jig Green sector of Gold beach, in the middle of the Normandy assault beaches, late on the night of 6 June.

As the LCT approached the beach the men on board witnessed the aftermath of the initial landings.  The Germans had put up a determined resistance.  25,000 troops landed on Gold beach on 6 June.  413 men were killed or wounded on the beach and 89 landing craft were destroyed that day. In the darkness those on board LCT 7074 would have glimpsed a grim scene of carnage, with wrecked boats and vehicles, the wounded and dead.  The weather was still bad and the seas rough and the mass of craft and vehicles packed around the narrowed beach at high tide made landing too dangerous.  LCT 7074 pulled back from the beach and withdrew out to sea to wait to return the next morning.  It seemed as if the bad luck experienced with the engine problems back on Tyneside had struck again.

After another night of snatched sleep LCT 7074’s crew motored back into the Jig Green sector of Gold beach, opposite the village of Asnelles-sur-Mer, this time successfully landing, at 09.30 on 7 June.  Philip Stephens described what happened:

‘Down went the ramp and out drove our tanks into six feet of water.  Only one came to grief, stalling on the sea bed with the waves breaking over it, until a ‘Duck’ (amphibious vehicle) arrived to rescue the half-drowned crew. No sooner had the tanks got clear than the heavy seas and strong tide swept us and two craft together, and we proceeded to chew each other to pieces.’

LCT 7074 was stuck in the sand and had to wait all day for the tide before it could float free from the beach.  The third frustrating delay that the crew had experienced!  Fortunately, the fighting had moved inland, but as the crew waited, they had time to reflect on the evidence of the earlier battle on the beach.  Stephens noted:

‘The craft alongside was a wreck, having received three direct hits as she went in.  In a pool left by the receding tide, beside an underwater steel obstruction loaded with live mines, there floated the body of a soldier – mute witness to the battle that had raged to secure the beachhead.’

But the delay also presented a happier opportunity:

‘…some of the crew went ashore to Asnelles-sur-Mer and were toasted in champagne in the village restaurant.’

Meanwhile the tanks from the 22nd Armoured Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division carried by the LCT headed off into the battles for Normandy.  They were six Stuart light tanks from the Reconnaissance Troop of the 5th Royal Tank Regiment (the seventh had been lost on landing), two unarmed Sherman ‘Observation Post’ tanks of the 5th Royal Horse Artillery (a self-propelled artillery regiment) and one Cromwell tank of the 22nd Armoured Brigade HQ.  Once ashore the tanks drove inland towards Bayeux to support infantry operations clearing enemy troops from around the town.  They then headed toward Tilly-sur-Seulles, before entering the town of Villers-Bocage.  Here one of the unarmed ‘Observation Post’ Sherman tanks commanded by Major Denis Wells was caught up in a German attack led by German ace Michael Wittman.  Wittman’s Tiger tank fired at and destroyed the Sherman.  Wells and his driver, Charles Rae, were both injured as they abandoned the vehicle, but the Gunner, Leonard Norman, was killed.  Six days earlier the tank and crew had been aboard LCT 7074.

Before LCT 7074 left Gold beach 200 enemy prisoners of war were loaded aboard for transportation back to England.  However, since the crew did not have the means to guard the prisoners, they were transferred to a Landing Ship Tank (LST) instead. With high tide LCT 7074 was able to float off the beach on 8 June, but any celebrations were short-lived as the curse of engine trouble returned and the luckless vessel lost its convoy and arrived alone at Southampton on 9 June.

On 12 June, the day after the Normandy beachhead was fully secured, LCT 7074 was back in action bringing American paratroopers to the ‘Sugar Red’ sector of the Utah beach landings on the Cherbourg peninsula. The vessel then made 32 round trips ferrying troops and vehicles and supplies, across the English Channel to support the Allies’ military advance across France and the Low Countries.  It also played a role in supplying equipment for the strategically important crossing of the River Rhine in March 1945 which enabled the troops to drive deep into Germany.

LCT 7074 was then moved up to Liverpool where it was converted into an emergency repair ship for use in the Pacific War against the Japanese, and the ship’s designation was changed to NSC L (19).  However, the Japanese were defeated before it could be used in its new role, and the vessel’s wartime service was over.

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Victory in Europe and reflect on what made that victory possible, D-Day stands as a critical point in the chain of events.  The uncovering of the story of LCT 7074, helped by members of the Jarrow & Hebburn Local History Society and other volunteers and museum staff around the country, presents us with a compelling insight into a detail within the vast canvas of the battle.  This, together with the saving, restoration and imminent display of LCT 7074 at the D-Day Story museum, connects us back to this momentous period in our history.

With thanks to

Jarrow & Hebburn Local History Society

Tyne & Wear Archives

The D-Day Story, Portsmouth

Arts Council England

National Lottery Heritage Fund

National Heritage Memorial Fund

South Tyneside Council

Portsmouth City Council

National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN)

The Story of Elizabeth Gould – An Extraordinary Bird Woman

Last month we looked at the visit to the north of England by John James Audubon, the esteemed American wildlife naturalist and illustrator. This blog considers the work of Audubon’s contemporary, John Gould and his wife, Elizabeth.

The nineteenth century was a remarkable period for the publication of high-quality ornithological books containing beautiful and detailed bird illustrations. This was largely due to the development of lithography, a new printing process that enabled artists to faithfully replicate in vibrant colour the original images that they had produced, often through the medium of watercolour.

One of the giants of this era of illustrated bird book publication was John Gould (1804 – 1881). Because of his prodigious work in the production of this type of material he became commonly known as the “Bird Man”. However, his story is not just that of one man working alone in order to achieve his vision.

Portrait of John Gould

Arguably more than anyone else, including his contemporary John James Audubon, Gould succeeded in using lithography in his publications to celebrate the beauties of the world of birds. Gould’s skills lay in making use of  the most talented artists available at that time, including Edward Lear and Joseph Wolf and crucially his wife Elizabeth Gould. He coupled this with entrepreneurial flair and the instincts of a businessman, enabling him to publish a series of lavishly illustrated folios that were avidly collected by affluent enthusiasts, learned societies and libraries.

The library of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN), located in the Great North Museum: Hancock Library is fortunate to contain two of Gould’s most celebrated publications. These are firstly the five-volume work “Birds of Europe” published between 1832 and 1837 and secondly “The Birds of Great Britain” published in 25 parts between 1862 and 1873 which had 367 illustrations and attracted 468 subscribers, including Queen Victoria.

One of the most significant factors that Gould depended upon while achieving his spectacular status was the contribution of his wife Elizabeth, a figure who has become increasingly regarded as a key factor in the success of the “Bird Man”.

Portrait of Elizabeth Gould

Elizabeth Gould (1804 – 1841) was born into a military family and as a young woman worked as a tutor of French, Latin and music. She also developed the skills that helped her to become an accomplished amateur artist. She married John Gould in 1829 when they were both aged 24.  Elizabeth began her professional life by producing ornithological drawings intended to supplement John’s letters to colleagues. John encouraged her to learn the technique of lithography and asked his collaborator, the young Edward Lear, to instruct her in this skill. Once proficient in this art form she created illustrations that built on John’s more rudimentary drawings. Early evidence of her artistic ability is prvided by her production of 50 lithographic plates for inclusion in Charles Darwin’s “The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle – Part III Birds” published in 1838. These plates were not credited to her.

Of the over 3,300 lithographic plates that John Gould published during his publishing career around 650 were designed, lithographed and painted by his wife. One of Gould’s most spectacular and celebrated works was his “Birds of Australia” published between 1840 and 1848 in seven volumes,  it included descriptions and illustrations of 681 specimens of which 84 were painted by Elizabeth who was able to produce sketches from  live specimens. One of the most famous images that she produced was that of the Fairy Wren.  The Gould’s lived in Australia and travelled around this vast country while the arduous work on this massive undertaking was taking place.

Fairy Wren illustration from” Birds of Australia”

Elizabeth Gould returned to England with her husband and sadly on 15 August 1841 she contracted a fever following the birth of her eighth child and died at the age of 37. It was a severe blow to John to lose his wife, the mother of his children and also his artist. As a fitting commemoration posthumously, she had two Australian birds, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird and the beautiful Gouldian Finch named after her.

Contemporaries of Elizabeth Gould had realised the importance of her artistic contribution to ornithological illustration. Many years after her death, when her husband John Gould died in 1881, Edward Lear stated that “He (Gould) “owed everything to his excellent wife without whose help in drawing he had done nothing”.  The famous Northumbrian naturalist and illustrator John Prideaux Selby also observed that “I like (Elizabeth’s illustrations) as well as Audubon’s”. John James Audobon was the world-famous illustrator and publisher of the “Birds of America”

Though the NHSN library does not include a copy of “Birds of Australia” it does contain a first edition of Gould’s five-volume work “The Birds of Europe” which was published between 1832 – 1837. The production of the book required Elizabeth and John to travel extensively in Europe visiting natural history collections and observing and collecting specimens in the wild. Being able to see living, moving, birds enabled Elizabeth’s artistic talent to reach new levels. She began to depict lively interactions between males and females and increased movement in her figures. She produced 380 plates for this publication and had access to live caged birds from which to compose her sketches. This is when she established her signature style of ornate backgrounds and realistic shading was also realised. The lithographic process allowed for the depiction of more realistic textures including feathers and fluff. It enabled her to show lively birds of all shapes and colours performing mating displays, protecting their young and interacting with their environments. This was all a far cry from the “dead bird on a stick” approach to ornithological illustration of the 18th century and before.

Red Footed Falcon illustration from “Birds of Europe”

Because of the marvellous work that she produced in collaboration with her more famous husband Elizabeth Gould has left a permanent and tangible legacy of her short life and contemporary interest in her and her achievements is much in evidence. For example, a recent award-winning novel by Melissa Ashley titled “The Birdman’s Wife” has been published which tells the fictionalised story of her life.

If you would like to see original examples of the ornithological illustrations of Elizabeth Gould, you are welcome to visit the Great North Museum: Hancock Library. This contains the library of the Natural History Society of Northumbria where Gould’s “Birds of Europe” is part of the collection. The library is free to use and is open to everyone, although it is currently temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Further information about the library can be found at

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

The Regina Tombstone

Keeper of Archaeology, Alex Croom takes an in-depth look at the Regina Tombstone, on display at Arbeia South Shields Roman Fort.

This is the tombstone of Regina from the tribe of the Catuvellauni, freedwoman and wife of Barates from Palmyra. She came from southern England and he came from Syria and they ended up at South Shields. It is an expensive tombstone with a full-length portrait of Regina, whose face has unfortunately been chipped away. The sculptor probably came from Syria and he combines both Palmyrene and Romano-British elements in the tombstone.

Regina is shown within a niche decorated with architectural details. The use of a niche topped with a semi-circular shell is common on Romano-British tombstones but unknown at Palmyra. Here, however, the oval shape behind Regina’s head does not fill the top of the niche and is not carved with the ribs of a shell. This looks more like a nimbus, the cloud of light used to indicate gods and people of power. Here it perhaps indicates that as Regina was dead she was no longer human but part of the supernatural world.

Regina is wearing an underbodice and ground-length skirt with a shorter unbelted tunic over the top. This is not a Mediterranean Roman costume, but a provincial form of dress, and shows that not even rich women always adopted mainstream Roman fashions. The tombstone dates to the second half of the second century when wearing clothes held together by brooches was going out of fashion and new styles – such as this – were coming in. Regina also wears two bulky bracelets and a chain round her neck. They are all decorated with a herringbone design, which can be paralleled on Palmyrene tombstones, and does not necessarily reflect the designs of jewellery Regina herself wore.

Regina is sitting in a high-backed wicker chair. This is a common item of Roman furniture, mainly associated with women; men were expected to prefer less comfortable seats such as stools and benches. The back of this type of chair usually curved round to the front, which is represented here by the curved line at the top. The weave of the wicker is typically represented in vertical lines and not radiating out from the centre as here, which may be a Palmyrene convention.

In her lap she holds the equipment needed for spinning thread. The distaff is the rod at the back with a round mass of unspun wool tied onto it, and the spindle is the more oval shape underneath it, with wavy lines depicting the spun thread wrapped round it. In the Roman world spinning was carried out almost exclusively by women, and the distaff and spindle were therefore a symbol of womanly virtue and domestic skills. They are included on the tombstone to show she was a good woman and dutiful wife.

The basket beside her chair contains balls of wool. It is possible that in real life as soon as Regina became the mistress of the house she stopped spinning thread herself and left it to her own slave or slaves to do. The slaves were given a certain weight of wool to be spun in a day and had to finish it all, however long it took them.

Regina uses one hand to lift the lid of a box. It has brass plates on the corners and a decorative crescent on the front and is raised on legs. It also has a prominent lock to indicate it was used to hold valuables such as jewellery and money. As with the size of the tombstone itself, Barates is here advertising his wealth.

Barates came from Palmyra, in modern Syria. This was a large imposing city, very far removed from a minor military fort with small associated civilian settlement such as South Shields. Even Regina, from the more Romanized south, would have found life different here. The name ‘Palmyra’ was originally Greek which is why it contains a letter Y, not generally used in the Latin alphabet.

This is part of the word ‘Catvallavna’ on the bottom line of the Roman inscription. The sculptor made a mistake here and originally wrote an ‘O’ which he removed and replaced with the letters ‘TV’. This is a surprising correction, as spelling was quite fluid in the Roman period. Latin was possibly a third language for the sculptor, who probably also spoke Palmyrene and Greek.

This is a line of Palmyrene Aramaic. It is carved more confidently than the Latin, and suggests the stone-mason was also Syrian. It translates as ‘Regina, freedwoman of Barate, alas!’ (note the different spelling of his name). Although this seems more personal than the factual Latin text, this is a common formula on tombstones in Palmyra. In the Palmyrene inscription Regina is simply called ‘freedwoman’ rather than ‘wife’.

Images courtesy of Colin Davison

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.